Friday, June 13, 2014

Star Flyer to start Yamaguchi-Ube in October.

Star Flyer (7G/SFJ), which is undergoing management change and restructuring (Star Flyer's President Shinichi Yonehara to step down.) after posting a whopping 3 billion JPY loss for fiscal year 2013, will reportedly launch Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) – Yamaguchi-Ube (UBJ/RJDC) from the Winter 2014/2015 schedule starting on October 26th.
Airbus A320-214 JA04MC City of Kitakyushu taxies at rainy Haneda. Delivered in 2007, it will be returned to the lessor this year, reducing the fleet to nine. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Since the Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR)-based airline's total number of prized Haneda slots will remain at 27 slot-pairs, two of 10 round-trips between Haneda and Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) and one of the dozen connecting the capital with Kitakyushu is expected to be suspended to provide room for the three new flight pairs. The other five slot-pairs are currently used for their Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB) service.

However, Sadami Matsuishi, the new President to be sworn in on June 25th (New Star Flyer President is from ANA.), had repeatedly emphasized to Kitakyushu's business community that the airline's hometown would not see cuts, so if local criticism turns out to be strong, Fukuoka could see a third flight cut instead of Kitakyushu. Mr. Matsuishi is a veteran of All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), a wholly owned subsidiary of ANA Holdings, which controls roughly 18% of Star Flyer's shares. His most recent position has been Chief of Department for Risk Management at IBEX Airlines (FW/IBX).

Meanwhile, ANA plans to code-share with Star Flyer on all three new flights and instead reduce flying their own metal on three of their five daily round-trips. This effectively frees up three of ANA's slot-pairs at Haneda, which sparks speculation about where ANA plans to use these precious slots to. The code-share allows Star Flyer to have a stable income from the now de facto parent while for ANA it could transfer second-tier routes to a (slightly) lower-cost partner and free-up Haneda slots at the same time. Operating under a similar scheme are Star Flyer's three Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) – Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) round-trips (Star Flyer to add ANA's code on all flights.), launched on March 30th, which replaced three of ANA's.

Now in its eighth year of service, Star Flyer's heavy losses not only stem from high costs (Cost of Available Seat-Kilometer, or CASK, was 11.8 JPY for FY2011), a depreciated JPY (same as everyone else), and LCC competition, but also from critical strategy errors. Last spring, it dumped all of its five new slot-pairs awarded at Haneda on the Fukuoka route, a high-demand link but also one of the most highly-contested. Load factors went up, but prices went down and hurt the all-important yield.

Star Flyer initially touted (and still does) itself as an affordable high-quality domestic airline, boasting Airbus A320s with only 150 seats, providing audio visual on-demand (AVOD) at every seat (the only domestic airline to do so), as well as serving Tully's-branded coffee accompanied by chocolate for free. However, with heavy losses and ANA's increased involvement, it is becoming merely another pawn of ANA, joining the likes of AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do), IBEX Airlines, and Skynet Asia Airways (6J/SNJ) (d.b.a. Solaseed Air).

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, June 13th. (in Japanese)

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